Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Sunday 9th April 2017

And so to the warmest, nay, hottest, day of the year. With the wind in the south, no clouds in the sky, it was already warm at seven as we had breakfast, and I began to plan the day.

I wish I could have chased orchids all day, on such a perfect day, endless sunshine and little or no breeze, photography would be wonderful in such conditions. But with a trip to Oostende in the afternoon, we would have to rush round.

The chaos of the port traffic was long forgotten, no trucks or cars on the roads as we made our way along Townwall Street then taking the A20 up Shakespeare before turning off to Samphire. Samphire was quiet, at it would be at half seven. Being here at this time meant we had passed on bacon butties and me not watching the football. Yes, orchids are that important!

Early Spider Orchid Ophrys sphegodes Anyway, I park in the overflow car park, the centre of which was orchid central last year. And as a result of no rain for so long, the ground is still so dry it has set like concrete, just two Early Spider rosettes were growing, and the CSO rosette I saw last week ad not grown. The wardens see me pacing around, but leave me be. In truth there are no orchids to tread on.

I get a shot, for what it's worth, and then we can drove to Stockbury for some bluebell action. And for a change I take us up the motorway then up the A249 which climbs the down towards Chatham.

The Kentish Bluebell Wood We turn off, and drive up the narrow lane to the single parking spot. Jools straight away spots more of the tiny Townhall Clock plants, which I had nearly run over.

Into the wood and the anemones are still showing well, but when you look close, some are starting to go over. Further along the bluebells start, not quite at their peak, but pretty close. And in the perfect conditions, I can;t think of a better example of an English spring than a carpet of bluebells, dappled with sunlight.

Not that there are ever many people about, but I do the bluebell shots first, along the narrow path that winds its way through the thickest part. It is glorious; behind me a Green Woodpeckers sceeches, and then flies off, in the distant sheep are calling, and all around is a sea of blue.

Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula Further on there are the Early Purples, scattered around a clearing. Only a couple are in sunlight, so it is those I snap. Last week I would have snapped every one, but now, just more orchids. We walk along the path across the top of the site, stopping to take more shots of the EPOs, and to savour the scene. Down the steps to the lower paddocks, and no sign of the butterfly orchids, or butterflies. Further along the Lady rosettes start, and many are now showing the buds on the top of the spike. A couple are even coloured. It seems incredible that they are so advanced at the start of what is just the second week in April.

We scramble back up the hill, back through the bluebells and anemones to the car, load up and drive to the village, hoping to see that the local sheep had given birth. But the farmer had moved them to a distant field, so nothing to see, just the rows of fading daffodils that lines the lanes as we drove back to the main road.

Fly Orchid Ophrys insectifera As last week, or last port of call was to check on the Fly just off Stone Street. They probably wouldn't be out, but then a walk in the woods is never wasted. Half an hour later we arrive, reverse into the parking spot and get out the cameras. On the walk to the meadow, I find CSO rosettes in the middle of the path, Twayblade spikes near to flowering, and behind the bench, the Fly spike a little bigger, but not that advanced. We sat on the bench to admire the scene, but there were Green Hairstreaks out as yet, but many Brimstones and Orange Tips flittered hither and thither, but not settling. These two are very hard to snap, especially on a warm sunny morning when they have so much energy.

Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea I wanted to check the top meadow, as the orchids there are very early, and who knows what we might find. So we walk down the path, spotting Fly spikes on both sides pretty much all the way down. Many are about to produce spikes, which is incredible. A cold snap could stop all the fun of course, but it is amazing to see them this advanced. A few years ago we were amazed to have a Fly open on the 30th April, could be much earlier this year!

We cross the road and begin the climb up the bank, only to find the path lined with more Fly and Twayblades. Jools then asks about some similar leaves to the Twayblade, and I realise they are Greater (probably) Butterflies, some with spikes well formed and maybe just a couple of weeks away from opening. There is also a patch of Herb Paris, some with 5 or 6 leaves, but very happy among the orchids.

Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea Once in the upper meadow I see the Lady Rosettes, not quite as advanced as those at Stockbury, but will put up spikes quickly now that the sun is out. In fact on my way back, I notice more and spikes have formed and one close to beginning to open! There are more Fly too, including a dense patch along the path in the woods. And in the air, more Brimstone and Orange Tips fly past, generally not settling down allowing me to photograph them.

I look at my watch: half an hour to walk back to the car, half hour to drive home, have lunch, pack. Time has run out and I need to be thinking about work. Sadly, with perfect conditions, I wanted to go to PGD to check on the Monkey, but the clock had beaten me.

Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea Once home I go to pack, book my travel on the tunnel, check my work bag then cook lunch; fresh English asparagus cooked in French butter. Perfect.

I'd love to stay, but must go, due to the timer difference, if I want to have a meeting with my offgoing minion, then I had to be in Oostende by six, leaving at half one at the latest. Which I do, waving goodbye to Jools as she has an afternoon planting and weeding in the garden.

I have a quiet drive to the tunnel, check in and am able to drive straight onto the train. How something so amazing became so ordinary is really something. I have a magazine to read, so try to block out the noise of the two cars behind me with their hyperactive children, who have discovered the horn on the car. All the way across, honk, honk, honk.

On the other side, we can drive out onto the motorway with no hold ups, then take the road north, taking it easy as traffic on this day was so heavy. It is 23 degrees outside, and too nice to be on my way to work, or, the hotel anyway. But the fields of Flanders are alive with colours, even with the daffodils having begun to die out.

Ninety seven I get a call from Rune telling me I had to be there by seven as they had booked a table at the burger place, only for me to come to the end of a long line of traffic, probably caused by an accident. I was just 30km shy of Oostende.

We inch towards a junction, and I decide to take that, drive to the coast at Middlekerke and head north, bound to come to Oostende in time I thought.

Even better than that, I find a main road heading north beside a still canal, and at the next town the road was signposted to Oostende. No worries.

I arrive at the hotel at six, enough time to check into the hotel, and chill out before meeting the guys at the burger place next door, where we had secured a huge table outside. Yes, warm enough to eat outside.

Oostende is heaving with people. Thousands are on the promenade and beach, just enjoying the sunshine. It is a holiday here, and so people have no work to do in the morning.

The guys arrive from being offshore, we order beers and various burgers. The more beers.

The sun begins to set, our food arrives, and we all agree these are the moments that working away makes up for. We toast our good fortune and friendship and tuck into our food.

But the time we finish, the sun is setting, and three of us retire to a local bar for some putting the world to rights chat and some Eurofizz beer, which means you could have lots, if you wanted. We have two small glasses each, then as we all are working the next morning, we big each other goodnight, and I wind my way back to the hotel and my bed.

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